Fighting Back

by Debbie Acklin

Screen Shot 2014 10 23 at 11.53.21 AM Fighting Back PhotoTwo weeks before my forty-ninth birthday, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. I woke up one morning with a sinus infection and decided to drop in at a nearby clinic. Most of the time, when I was sick, my sinuses would be the problem. Rather than make an appointment with my often-neglected internist, I usually just went to the clinic, got some medicine and a shot, and went on my way. It was the convenient thing to do.

On this particular visit, while I waited to see a doctor, I noticed a poster on the wall that advertised clinical trials for a new sinus medication. When the doctor came in, I asked him about it. He thought I would be a good candidate, so I signed up. A nurse came in to draw blood for the trial.

On my first visit, as part of the clinical trial, they gave me the results of my blood test. The doctor was quite concerned over my blood glucose level. He was so agitated, so insistent that I immediately see my internist, that I left his office terrified.

Sure, I had heard of diabetes. My grandmother had died in a diabetic coma; however, like millions of people, I did not realize how shockingly little I actually knew, or didn’t know, about this disease. I immediately called my internist for the first available appointment. I hung up the phone, sat down and cried. I called my husband and gave him the news. Then I sat down and cried some more. I called a friend with the news. Then I sat down and cried again. I was a complete wreck. What was I to do?

I somehow felt that I needed to eat as little as possible until I could see the doctor. I ate baked potatoes, toast, and other bland foods, as if I were recovering from the stomach flu! These are the foods that diabetics need to minimize and I was making a diet of them. This was how little I knew. The only thing I knew about a diabetic diet is that it should be low in sugar. I had no idea that the body converted starches to sugar, or glucose, in the blood stream.

My doctor ran the tests that confirmed that I, indeed, was a Type II diabetic. He explained the differences between a Type II diabetic and a Type I diabetic. This was the first time I was actually aware that there was more than one kind of diabetes and how they were treated. He also explained how this put me in a high-risk group for other things, like heart disease. He prescribed some medicine for me and set me up for educational classes at a diabetic clinic. I attended them all and paid close attention.

I wondered how long the disease had gone undiagnosed. I did not want to hear that my weight gain, over the years, might have been a trigger for the disease. I did not want to hear that my life had become too sedentary. I was very defensive and very much in denial. I was still scared and frustrated. This was everyone’s fault but mine!

But. . . I began to eat the way I was supposed to eat. I now knew what foods to avoid or minimize, and what foods to seek out. I searched the Internet and learned everything I could about healthy eating. I discovered the glycemic index, which measures the effects of a food on blood glucose levels.

I got on the treadmill every night. I never missed. At first I would walk and cry. If tears burned calories, I would have wasted away. I made up a song about diabetes and I sang it as I walked. It was a marching song, a war song. It was about not letting this disease beat me. I sang as if I were throwing down a challenge to a tangible opponent. I even shook my fist in the air from time to time.

Some unexpected things began to happen. I lost over thirty pounds. My bad cholesterol levels dropped. My good cholesterol levels went up. Even my blood pressure improved. My level of exercise had progressed to the point that I became interested in entering 5K runs, especially fundraisers. I was still a Type II diabetic, but I was much healthier than I had been before.

Most importantly, with the help of my doctor, I brought my blood glucose levels under control. I felt embarrassed and ashamed that I had neglected regular visits to my doctor. The truth was that I felt like I didn’t need to see him. Things like early detection and preventative care were foreign to me. Why did I need to go to the doctor when I wasn’t sick?

I started taking responsibility for my own health. I faithfully tested my blood and recorded my results. I did hours of research on diabetes. I wanted to know everything about the disease that had taken over my life. I wanted everyone around me to know. I did fasting glucose tests on my entire family. I didn’t want them to be harboring this disease, unknown, as I had been. I also encouraged them to get their doctors to test them.

I see my doctor regularly. I am up to date on all my medical tests. I always ask for copies of my lab reports so that I can track changes. I make notes prior to going to my doctor so I won’t forget what to tell him or what to ask him. He adjusts my medicine or gives me advice based on my tests and our discussions. We are partners in my health care.

It has been over ten years since my diagnosis. I still hate being a diabetic, but I am so thankful that I was diagnosed. I truly believe that it was divine intervention that led me to that clinical trial. It still surprises me how uneducated people are about diabetes, especially diabetics. I find that I am becoming more involved in spreading the word and helping fight diabetes.

We all have to live with some sort of adversity. Diabetes will always be a part of my life, and I have to deal with that, but it won’t define me, and it happily led me to better health.